Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cherries and Prunes and Walnuts

Published about 1911
Once upon a time, about a century ago, the country's towns and cities and counties and states were wild for self-promotion, goofy on boosterism. The Pacific Northwest was particularly afflicted. One of the syndrome's manifestations was the impulse to characterize a place in a snappy slogan, and some of these have stuck: Portland, the City of Roses is a prime example, and Grants Pass still says "It's the Climate."

Dallas, 1926
Other characterizations have come and gone. McMinnville in the 1910s was The Walnut City. It has subsequently tried self-puffery with both turkeys and UFOs, and today it boosts and boasts of pinot noir. Dallas once called itself the Prune City, and its booster cookbook boasted 59 prune-inclusive recipes. Salem in 1907 began its career as the Cherry City; the Cherry City Cook Book, however, could only muster 15 recipes featuring cherries. At the same time, The Dalles was chasing the same title. Salem having uprooted most of its nearby cherry orchards for tract housing, The Dalles could keep the claim--if it still wanted it. And did you know that Salem's city transit vehicles are still called Cherriots?

“Blend’s Mah Friend”

Recipe leaflet, ca. 1894
There’s a lengthy history of food-related imagery depicting African Americans. The legacy of black American women and men as good cooks is evident in Uncle Ben’s rice and Aunt Jemima’s syrup.

The Pacific Northwest’s history of discouraging black residency is brightly reflected in its historically small black population. But by the 1890s, the new transcontinental railroads had hired black porters and waiters to staff their dining and sleeping cars. This established a small nucleus of African American residents in Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle. The Portland Hotel—begun by the Northern Pacific Railroad—had a black waitstaff.
Portland, ca. 1915

Throughout the region, blacks were seldom visible. Despite the association of blacks with good service (and proper servility) on railroads and in big-city hotels, some establishments explicitly noted their absence as a positive point.

A. Curtis photo, 1915. UW Libraries
The Fisher Flouring Mills of Seattle (with mills also in Tacoma and Portland at times) offers one of the few instances of a regional black figure in Northwest food history. From about 1912 to 1920, Newton Colman (pictured at left) personified Fisher’s Blend flour in local advertising. Until about 1950, a line drawing of a black chef and the phrase “Blend’s mah friend” identified the company and carried a message that linked black men with good cooking.

A curious sidebar to this topic is the existence of several regional community cookbooks with a cover drawing of a black woman cook. I have three examples, from Sweet Home, The Dalles, and Amity, all from 1951, and all printed by the Bev-Ron Publishing Company of Kansas City, Missouri. A quick Google search reveals that Bev-Ron is today Cookbook Publishers, Inc., of Lenexa, Kansas, and that, as in 1951, they will organize, design, and print your community cookbook. And as in 1951, you have a selection of cover templates from which to choose.

In 1951, the Wasco County Chapter of American Gold Star Mothers, the Women’s Society of Christian Service of the Sweet Home Community Church, Methodist, and the Women’s Society of Christian Service of Amity Methodist Church, all chose this cover for their cookbooks. Was it a Methodist Thing?
Portland Oregonian, May 18, 1926

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Outpost of Castile

We’ve written before on fusion food offerings of the early twentieth century in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s another example, this one a little less chaotic than the Spanish-Mexican-Italian-Chinese-French-Texan-Aztec menu of Cook’s Tamale Grotto.

A postcard from about 1912

The Castillian Grill first appears in the Portland Oregonian in an advertisement on December 27, 1908: “Spanish cooking—for men and women. Regular Spanish dinner, 4 to 8 P.M., 50c. 427 Wash. st.,” between SW 11th and 12th. Restaurateur W. C. McDonnell first shows up in the Polk city directories running another establishment in Portland from 1909, and as the manager of the Castilian in 1912 and 1913. The Polk directory also notes, “Spanish and Mexican cooking, chicken tamales and Spanish pot pies a specialty.”

Misfortune seems to have struck under McDonnell’s auspices, as the restaurant underwent a bankruptcy sale on August 15, 1912; the receiver was an agent of Weinhard’s Brewery. At the time, the Castillian had two locations, the one on Washington and another on SW 6th Avenue near Stark Street.

The Castillian Grill apparently weathered its bankruptcy, although its location changed again, to SW Morrison near 11th in 1913. Later it was adjacent to the Perkins Hotel, which was at SW 5th and Washington. The Oregonian describes a minor fire in the Perkins Hotel basement on the evening of May 1, 1917, when smoke drove both hotel guests and “waitresses, cooks and diners” from the Castillian into the street; it’s the last mention of the restaurant to be found in the newspaper.

From a postcard
The brief menu on the postcard suggests an emphasis on Mexican dishes, with at least a few eponymous nods to native Aztec roots and some references to Spain—and let’s not forget the spaghetti. Probably there was Weinhard’s beer to wash it down.

Who were the customers of the Castillian? Where did they source their ingredients? And their cooks? Was this an exotic destination, or a watering hole with novel food on the side? It’s worth noting that the 50-cent dinner of 1908 is roughly equivalent to $13.00 today, which suggests it wasn’t a cheap dive, nor was it a swanky place. In any case, it certainly was an unusual eatery for its time and place.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Coalca Redux, and More Basaltics

I can't resist posting the entire piece: the one-page article on Coalca's Pillar and its "legend." Published in the Southern Pacific Company's travel-and-booster magazine Sunset in March 1900, "Coalca's Pillar" is the only telling I have ever seen of this tale, which features a Clackamas chief called Chelko, his daughter Nawalla, and a Molalla chief named Coalca. My inference is that this is a fabrication of ca. 1899, by author unknown; I'd love to know more about it. You might also want to see the earlier posting on Coalca's Pillar and our once-robust fascination with basaltic plugs.

While we're at it, here are some other popular images of basaltic features:

"Giant Head Rock," somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge

"Hell's Smoke Stacks,"better known
as the Twin Sisters, at Wallula Gap
on the Columbia


Two views of Cape Horn, the one on the Washington state side of the Columbia

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Once-Cozy Cornelius

A few years ago when I was on the Portland Historic Landmarks Commission, a long-hoped-for proposal came to us, to renovate the Cornelius, a downtown hostelry on Park Avenue that had long been vacant and neglected. The Cornelius has something of a mansard roof, and huge, heavy, openable double-hung windows, and is located right in the heart of things at the corner of Park and Alder. Designed by John V. Bennes, it was built in 1907-1908. It's a handsome structure, very dignified, nicely detailed. A small Europeanish remnant of the Portland a century ago, but one that still fits comfortably into its corner of town.

But suddenly the economy fell, and the project fell with it. Now, the owners say they want to demolish it. Just get rid of it. To do so, they will have to go through not only the Landmarks Commission, but City Council, but what the heck. Why do we so blithely throw away buildings like the Cornelius?

All images courtesy Steve Dotterrer

The Phantom Streetcars

Oregon Historical Society, OrHi 101742
Here is what collectors call a RPPC--a "real photo postcard"--depicting a street scene in Stanford, Montana, postmarked June 9, 1913. It looks a little funny, doesn't it? The streetcar seems to be kind of disproportionally large, and the trolley pole appears to be drawn in with heavy ink.

Yes, the postcard is a real photograph of the main street of Stanford, and that is a real photograph of a streetcar--but the streetcar photo has been carefully cut and pasted onto the street scene. The penciled scrawl says, "Not yet but soon."This is a booster postcard, promoting the future metropolis of Stanford, so up-to-the-minute that it has streetcars. In 1910 the growing Stanford district had a population of 1,176; but prosperity did not continue, and the town's population today is less than 800. It never had a streetcar.

I recently ran across another RPPC with a faux streetcar on eBay. This image is of Jordan Valley, Oregon; "all cars stop" = all streetcars stop. This card is most likely a novelty item, for the remote sheep ranching trade town of Jordan Valley never had a reason to aspire to the status of Stanford, which is a county seat town on a mainline railroad line in a prosperous farming area. In the 1920 census, Jordan Valley had a population of 355, and like Stanford it has seen a decline since then, to about 230 people today.

There was a brief period from about 1905 to 1920 when streetcars represented the acme of metropolitanism, and postcards were the modern way to send a quick note--they were the Tweets of their day. If your town lacked a streetcar, you could still hope one might arrive, or you could admit to living in a small place and make a joke of it. In any case, it pays to advertise.

Monday, June 17, 2013

French Cuisine on the Streamliner!

Here’s a picture postcard of dining on the train, circa 1930. That’s the year that the Union Pacific Railroad introduced the Portland Rose as its premier through train from Chicago and Omaha to Baker City, Pendleton, The Dalles, and Portland. Although this was white-linen-tablecloth dining, the car’s décor, as well as the diners’ attire, is pretty down home, even if it is well dressed: there is no smarty Art Deco folderol here.

But the Union Pacific got with it in the 1930s. This was a time when their passenger train service was being hacked away at in great chunks by the Depression, the automobile, the airplane, and even the motor bus (the railroad established its own bus lines in 1929). In 1934, Union Pacific came out with its first “streamliner,” a sleek bullet train that set speed records and wowed the public.

Their second snappy streamliner went into service in 1935 as a new train, the City of Portland, “sailing” from its terminal ports of Portland and Chicago five or six times a month. And lo! in the dining car not only did the décor get smartened up over that of the Portland Rose, but the solid but mundane menu was shaken up, too. (And no doubt the diners dressed more fashionably, yes?)

For a time, the Union Pacific offered continental cuisine! Here you see the menu, as shown in an advertising folder from 1937. The full dinner price of $1.75 is roughly equivalent to $28.00 today: that's not outrageous, but the Union Pacific also ran dining cars at the time that catered to those pinching their few pennies, and there you could get a full plate dinner for 35 cents (about $5.60 in today’s money).

In case you are wondering, tranches au sauman [saumon] Montpelier would have been a hunk of [Columbia River] salmon with a butter sauce of herbs and anchovies. Potatoes Delmonico are smashed with cream and topped with cheese and breadcrumbs and browned. The Union Pacific had a fondness for fruit fritters as an accompaniment to main dishes, and it especially favored pineapple fritters. While apple fritters have survived as a fairly popular sweet treat at the doughnut shop, pineapple and cherry versions seem to have disappeared. What’s the story, do you suppose? And remember, prohibition had ended only a few years earlier, so your choice of wine was red or white, and probably from California.

While French cuisine apparently did not last very long, we have here a 1939 menu from the streamliner City of Los Angeles, showing a few variations on the theme. Railroad dining cars had a habit of occasionally promoting regional products on their menus, or of pushing particular foods, but to offer an entire “ethnic” menu was pretty rare. The only other one that springs to mind (it, too, did not last for long) was the “Italian Dinner” served on the California Zephyr in the 1950s, between Chicago and San Franciso. Don't you think a Thai menu would have a following on the Amtrak Cascades trains to Seattle?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Little Known Aspects of [Oregon] History

Talk about Oregon oddities: these are odd. What are they? They are three postcards created ca. 1955 by S. Dave Babbett on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, in particular their over-wintering at Fort Clatsop in 1805-1806. While I have three cards, there may have been more in the series.

The cards include lots of faddish period-specific references: coonskin caps were hot, deriving from the popularity of the Disney television series “Davy Crockett” (my sister had a white one, shoddily made of ratty rabbit fur); USO shows were hot, with the troops in Korea; the Cuban dance and music known as the mambo was hot; comic-strip police hero Dick Tracy and his two-way wrist radio were hot.

Other references? Not so hot. Sacajawea as a hotsy-totsy. Oy. So, who the heck was S. Dave Babbett, and why did he draw these things? Dave shows up in the Portland Oregonian in 1955, when a book of his photographs was issued by Cascades Press of Corvallis, called Cannon Beach, an Essay in Pictures. According to entertainment columnist B. Mike (July 9, 1955), “Babbitt, the author, came from New York last September where he did TV and commercial art on the east coast. Right now he’s doing free-lance art work and teaching painting at Cannon Beach. He wanted to come to the west coast to do some painting, saw Cannon Beach on the map, visited it, and settled down. Calls it the most beautiful ten-mile stretch of beach he’s ever seen.”

In 1956, Babbitt was reported to be a new staff member of Pacific National Advertising Agency, where he was to supervise television advertising production; he was noted as having previously been a television writer for the prominent New York City ad firm, Ted Bates, Inc. The last mention of Babbitt was on November 4, 1960, when he exhibited an oil painting at the Portland Auto Show, "Be Home Before Dark"; “The oil shows two lovers in the back seat of a car. In the distance is Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. And it’s not dark, it’s broad daylight.”

Any additional information on these peculiar cards, or on their creator, the elusive S. Dave, would be much appreciated.